To endure, one must evolve. That holds true everywhere from the animal kingdom to modern society. Survival itself relies on progression. Disturbed progress and confidently chart new territory on their seventh full-length album, Evolution [Reprise Records]. Embodying the title’s meaning tenfold, the 2-time GRAMMY® nominated/multiplatinum-selling hard rock quartet (vocalist David Draiman, guitarist Dan Donegan, drummer Mike Wengren and bassist John Moyer) rearrange their musical DNA into a two-headed monster representative of dual styles: “Heavy” and “Ballad.” In doing so, they deliver a daring, dynamic, and definitive body of work.
“You never know what you’re going to get from us,” exclaims Donegan. “We’re not going to simply repeat the past. As musicians and artists, we’re always going to push ourselves to innovate. This is a really personal album. We’re just creating a different beds of music to connect with different emotions. We didn’t play it safe.”
Truth be told, they never have played it safe…
After forming in 1996, this Chicago-based juggernaut has gone on to accomplish the rare feat of achieving five consecutive number one debuts on the Billboard Top 200. That accolade elevated them to rarified air shared only by Metallica, the only other hard rock group to do so in the history of the chart.
Most recently, Immortalized (2015) was certified platinum and spawned the triple-platinum crossover smash “The Sound of Silence,” which garnered a 2017 GRAMMY® nod for “Best Rock Performance.” They’ve sold 16 million albums globally and scored eleven No. 1 singles at Active Rock Radio. Their quadruple-platinum 2000 debut The Sickness formally announced their arrival as genre leaders, solidified by subsequent GRAMMY® Award nominations as well as gold-, platinum- and double platinum-certified records and countless sold out shows around the globe. Additionally, they took home “Best Rock Artist” at the iHeartRadioMusic Awards and received acclaim from The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, and more.
Throughout this journey, Disturbed hinted at sonic expansion, but the right moment for transformation presented itself in 2018.
“It’s something we’ve been hungering to do and always tried to venture into different directions in regimented bursts,” affirms Draiman. “Honestly, in the post-‘Sound of Silence’ era, we finally had the confidence and latitude to really expand. Given the level of success we saw by going a radically different direction, we felt empowered to follow any direction we choose.”
“Bonding over a love for timeless music by the likes of Peter Gabriel, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Yes, the musicians congregated in Chicago to start jamming on ideas in late 2017. For the first time, Donegan broke out his acoustic guitar during these writing sessions. Together, they kindled a new spirit.
“When we’re in a room together, there’s magic that happens,” says Wengren. “We can’t explain it. That was present, but the vibe was a lot different than what we’d done in the past since we decided to work on the ‘Ballad’ half first.”
“For years, we’ve talked about trying to do a few acoustic tracks,” adds Donegan. “It’s always been a thought, but we never made it a priority. This time, we started acoustic. That’s how we got the ball rolling. It was a bit of a roller coaster, and there was a lot of emotion. We didn’t know if we would write two separate albums or release an acoustic record first. Everything shared the same spirit though, so we felt like we could make it work as one piece.”
At the top of 2018, the musicians retreated to The Hideout in Las Vegas, NV in order to record with Immortalized producer Kevin Churko [Ozzy Osbourne]. Over the course of three months, they carefully assembled what would become Evolution, incorporating not only acoustic guitar and drums, but piano, strings, 12-string, and even didgeridoo.
“We were able to include so many different elements of what our band has become,” Wengren goes on. “It’s got the heavier side, but it’s also stripped. We did so many things we’ve never done on a Disturbed album before.”
Speaking of breaking ground, they empowered their diehard fan base to actually choose the first single, voting either “Heavy” or “Ballad” online. The people demanded “Heavy” and received “Are You Ready,” which perfectly bridges eras of the band. Ignited by a flurry of electronics reminiscent of The Sickness days, it vaults into thick riffing and a stadium-size clarion call chant punctuated by a fret-burning guitar solo.
“It ended up becoming such a motherfucker,” grins Draiman. “It’s the perfect introduction to the journey that this record is and the perfect song for a hundred different celebrations, situations, rebellions, and sporting events.”
Introducing the Ballad side, acoustic guitars and a percussive heartbeat underscore “A Reason To Fight” as it builds towards a sweeping and soaring refrain. “Dan sent me a rough idea, because WE ALL have had experiences in our lives dealing with people we cared about who were victims of the demon known as addiction,” the frontman continues. “The opening line, ‘The image in your eyes reflecting the pain,’ came from Dan. It was one of the more collaborative times during the record. The hook is one of my favorite pieces of poetry I’ve ever written.”
Elsewhere, “Watch You Burn” begins with a warped and wild didgeridoo passage by Wengren before spiraling into progressive wizardry, paying homage to Gabriel-era Genesis. On the other end of the spectrum, “The Best Ones Lie” stands out as one of the heaviest entries in the group’s discography that “definitely shows our love for and inspiration from our relationship with the Pantera camp,” laughs Draiman.
Representing the “Heavy” side, the smart-bomb precise riffs and infectious chorus of “In Another Time” lament “how we have been zombified by technology.” Meanwhile, “No More” steamrolls towards another explosive hook lifted by Donegan’s deft fretwork. Draiman describes it as “a call-to-arms, so we can stop the vicious cycle of violence.”
Marking the midpoint of Evolution, “Hold On To Memories” showcases the depth of Disturbed’s progression, hinging on warm acoustic guitars and the frontman’s staggering range before a hummable solo.
Lyrically, it urges an important message.
“With all of the loss we’ve dealt with as a community and our individual experiences with life’s transitions, this song is meant to be a reminder not to forget,” says Draiman.
“Savior of Nothing” snaps from thick guitars, pinch harmonics, and airy electronics into a towering refrain. “It’s our tribute to the social justice warriors of the world,” smiles Draiman. “They’re people who are so obsessed with fighting intolerance they become intolerant themselves. It’s the ultimate irony. No matter what side you’re on, people have become addicted to being offended and finding a reason to rage. They don’t want to co-exist.”
Everything culminates on the elegiac “Already Gone,” where acoustic guitars send off a heart-wrenching goodbye.
Draiman elaborates, “It’s heartbreaking how much death we’ve had to endure within the past four or five years particularly within our community. It’s staggering. I’m tired of coming together for these funerals and these pre-meditated celebrations of death. The subject matter, whether we meant to or not, ends up being fairly prevalent through this record.”
In the end, Evolution extends the legacy these musicians first planted the seed for 22 years ago and hints at an even brighter, bolder, and bigger future to come.
“Music is such a powerful thing,” Donegan leaves off. “It’s the universal language. It’s how we communicate. We took the biggest turns we’ve ever taken on these songs, but we’re being honest with ourselves. I know that resonates with the audience, because we’ve heard them say it firsthand many times. The fans have given us this life and allowed us to bring our music to them. I don’t see an end to it. As a band, we continue to inspire each other. We haven’t lost that drive in over 20-something years together.”
“In terms of the message, I hope Evolution gives people some peace and empowerment,” concludes Draiman. “It really harks back to a time when boundaries didn’t matter at all and musicians were encouraged and enabled to truly spread their wings. That’s what we did—but we did so as Disturbed.” – Rick Florino, August 2018
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